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NO 97-98

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 97-98 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 97-98

July - August 2006



By Sonja Biserko

Suspension of negotiations with EU largely brought about telescoping of developments which utterly laid bare the anti-EU policy of the incumbent Serb authorities. Simulation of negotiations on status of Kosovo and unwillingness to apprehend Ratko Mladic and other Hague indictees have however compelled the international community to clearly define situation in Serbia. Unsuccessful negotiating process compelled Martii Ahtisari to state that "every nation shoulders a burden for which it must pay" and "policy line toed by Slobodan Milosevic must be taken into account". Those statements were a genuine bombshell which prompted Milosevic's heirs and notably Kostunica's and Tadic's advisers (in a line-up for ambassadorial posts - perhaps some even aspiring to land ambassadorship in Pristina), to angrily warn that "the said statement raises some serious issues notably the one of Ahtisari's unbiased stand within the framework of ongoing negotiations on the future status of Kosovo". Lulling of the Serb elite into illusions in the post-5 October 2000 period was partly brought about by international community's relativization of the Balkans developments in the past 15 years. That relativization resulted from a wrong insight into Milosevic's legacy, a peek at which was made only after assassination of Zoran Djindjic. Ahtisari's warning is the first-time indication that patience of international community is running out and that it intends to resort once again, like during the 1999 intervention, to a precise definition of Belgrade policy and Belgrade's accountability for the war.

Serbia is living in an illusion, without self-confidence, hence its aggressive stance towards its neighbors. Hence its need for self-segregation. Its elite divided over fundamental issues has to a large extent lost the public trust. It has also lost legitimacy because of its inability to resolve key issues of the society. Most striking is absence of understanding of general social interests. Since suspension of negotiations with EU, government of Serbia seems to have turned itself against Europe. During ex-Prime Minister's mandate the Serb government was open towards Europe and it even sought a kind of reconciliation with Europe. Although the incumbent authorities have passed several pro-European acts, they are not being enforced, nor any progress has been made in reforms necessary for latching on European integrations. It seems that the Serb government has erected barriers to separate Serbia for a long time from Europe. Attractions of Europe seem to have waned, even the declarative ones. At play is a visible regression, in which religion has a special role. Not as religiosity, but as the last lever by dint of which Serbia turns itself away from its European future.

Serbia has a week government bereft of a clear-cut policy, and characterized by an evident absence of political support to the process of European integrations. Due to the lack of acumen to effect substantive reform moves, the thesis that Serbia shall pursue its own road, like Russia and China, is being marketed. Economy is blocked by underdeveloped institutional and systematic solutions and due to a slow economic recovery and high unemployment rate, the state does not function in the sphere of social policy.

Paradigm of the current crisis and weaknesses is a twosome Koštunica-Tadic. Inability to make a clean break with Milosevic's crime-riddled legacy blocked all potential of the society. Koštunica's strategy of sheer survival, without a clear projection of the future shall be punished at the elections by a low electorate turn-out. On the other hand Tadic's sporadic pro-European stands are not convincing enough. In the shadow of their incompetence and indecisiveness, the room is being made for the rise of Radicals. Both politicians use the latter possibility as a threat to the West instead of committing themselves more resolutely to tackling the issues adroitly manipulated by Radicals, namely, widespread corruption and salient social problems.

Negotiations on status of Kosovo indicate that the Serb elite stubbornly adheres to the territorial tack. It fails to grasp a broader international context, and also the true position of Serbia after Milosevic's aggressive policy, destruction, mass crimes and genocide in Bosnia. Such a policy always has it price also for the next generations. The fact is that the international community provided both Serbs and Albanians to agree alone, by taking into account the reality on the ground, on the future of Kosovo. But Serbs missed out on chance. If Serbs and Albanians fail to reach an agreement, the international community shall give its solution without their consent, for the status of Kosovo encroaches upon much broader strategic interests.

Independence of Kosovo is a logical epilogue of stance of the Serb state on Kosovo throughout the 20th century, notably in the past 20 years. Koštunica's government in its proposals eliminates or subordinates Albanians, which indicates that the Serb political elite has never even toyed with the idea of including the Albanians into a broader political community. The only essential issue which the Serb delegation should deal with is the content of independence, that is status of Serbs in Kosovo.

The Serb delegation is oft using as its key argument in the ongoing negotiations the issue of Serb property in Kosovo. However at play are in fact property rights which should be guaranteed by the future Kosovo state entity. Hence it is in the interest of Kosovo Serbs that Belgrade urges and advocates the legal state in Kosovo. Unfortunately the fate of Kosovo Serbs is uncertain, and due to the wrong Belgrade scenario may have a tragic end, similar to the ones in Croatia and Bosnia in 1995. Belgrade is already engaging in a tally of Serbs likely to leave Kosovo, depending on this or that scenario. Such an exodus is widely speculated upon both by the domestic media and the international community Some international organizations have already put in place contingency plans for acceptance of new refugees.

Under the pressure of a constant media campaign Kosovo Serbs are being primed for their possible exodus from Kosovo. Some have been ordered to renounce their UNMIK wages. Kosovo Serbs instrumentalization is unrelenting. Though they are aware of that instrumentalization they don't have the strength to resist Belgrade. Kosovo Serbs are the only ones who stand to lose everything because of Belgrade's blackmailing policy. Their instrumentalization serves to further demonize Albanians and to prevent their full independence. But independent Kosovo is in fact in the Serb interest too. Serbia should be the first one to recognize Kosovo and thus put in place preconditions for normalization of relations between Serbs and Albanians. That in turn would made easier the status of Kosovo Serbs.

Status quo suits the Serb side on several grounds. Firstly, the Kosovo issue keeps the Serb nationalism alive as the only possible political vision. At the same time the foregoing reflects lack of readiness of Serbia to tackle its own problems, notably its internal, constitutional order. The fact is that in Serbia Milosevic's Constitution which had caused the break-up of Yugoslavia is still in force. If Serbia fails to adopt a modern constitution, Milosevic's Constitution may be a basic text bringing about disintegration of Serbia, for it has imprisoned the energy and initiative of citizens.

Serbia's key and starting point/argument is that is has a strategic position in the Balkans, and large part of the international community backs such a stand. Politically and geographically, and also as a long-term source of destabilization of the Balkans, Serbia is an important regional country. However, Serbia must undergo the process of self-understanding and self-examination in order to turn into a regional factor which it covets, and which EU ascribes to it. It would be lethal if that process were skipped, for such a development would reduce regional chances of normalization and create a potential for future misunderstandings.

Serbs are frustrated with the outcome of wars and break-up of Yugoslavia. Age-old identity perception of Serbs as a dominant nation in the Balkans and backbone of Yugoslavia is vanishing and must be supplanted by a new, and more modern one. It is not an easy task due to a general terminological and ideological confusion. Western Europe is going through a post-modern and post-national stage. Under the pressure of globalization, the national state lost its clout to mobilize society, hence the quest of Europe proper for a new "glue" and identity. Very interesting theoretical discussions on that topic in Europe, are (once again) wrongly used by the Serb elite as justification for its ethnic nationalism (racial nationalism) and religious clericalism. The new cultural model, promoted by the Orthodox Church, leads to degeneration of the Serb culture, for it "purges" it from all external influences, prevents individualism, free and critical thinkers, and threatens all the "mavericks and unlike-minded". Ethnic states like Serbia are not adjusted to the new European paradigm, for globalization encourages cosmopolitism. Thus after a respite from the Yugoslav cosmopolitan state, Serbia, like other states in the neighborhood, shall have to make efforts anew to rise above its nationalism and turn to the building of the civil society.

Status of Kosovo has again "rocked the boat", that is raised the issue of possible division of Bosnia in exchange for, or as a compensation for Serbia's loss of Kosovo. The former is most evident in Republika Srpska, in which the current pre-election campaign runs on the following argument/ticket: the right to referendum, like the one given to Kosovo Albanians or Montenegrins. In that pre-election campaign Sarajevo is being mentioned as the Balkans Teheran, which is reminiscent of the 80's media demonization of the Balkans Muslims. It is overlooked that the Bosnian Muslims are the greatest victims of both war and peace. Such a development would be lethal for the whole Balkans and notably for Serbs. And it would also devalue international efforts in the past 15 years. Serbs need a different kind of compensation. That is, they need measures aimed at preventing their self-isolation to which Serbia is currently striving. Prime mover of the European Serbia is EU and not the Serb government and its Prime Minister. International community should rely more on civil society and lesser pro-European parties, that is on part of society which authentically respects and upholds European values and standards. Only if EU continues to pile pressure on the incumbent Serb authorities the latter shall be compelled to make a faster exit from their entrenched position. Both for the sake of region and Serbia EU engagement must prevent any attempt of Serbia to embrace a destabilizing policy. Provisions thwarting aspirations towards any neighboring country must be built into a new constitution of Serbia.


NO 97-98

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